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Office Stress Expert: Nevada Social Workers Risking Burnout

August 11, 2011

LAS VEGAS - People working in the helping professions - such as counseling, social work and health care - can burn out, and that's especially true in a state such as Nevada, which has fewer social workers to go around.

Jennifer Powell, an attorney and licensed social worker, says it's most important to recognize that sometimes people in such professions as social work can find their jobs overwhelming.

"It's sort of the end result of kind of unrelenting stress. It's not easy work, the pay isn't great, and the enormous caseloads lend to many helping professionals feeling burnout."

The burnout problem is on the rise because the recession is driving more people to seek help from mental health professionals, says Mark Nichols, executive director of the Nevada chapter of the National Association of Social Workers. At the same time, he says, the state is seriously understaffed.

"Nevada is near the top of the list for suicide and depression rates, but we are near the bottom of the list in the number of social workers per capita to help these people in need."

The national average is about 200 social workers for every 100,000 people, Nichols says, but Nevada has fewer than 90.

Professionals such as counselors and police who work with people suffering serious trauma can find themselves affected by that trauma, Powell says.

"Secondary traumatic stress. The helpers themselves begin to be affected by work that puts them in close contact with people who have been traumatized."

Powell will talk about the issue at a National Association of Social Workers conference later this month. More information about the conference is online at

Mike Clifford/Dallas Heltzell, Public News Service - NV